Augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality. These terms are heard more and more frequently and everything leads us to believe that the future of computing and businesses will be more and more focused on these technologies.
There is a tendency to confuse the three terms, which is normal when the promotional spots themselves make the amalgam. It is also the case of science fiction authors who do not always use the right terms to designate the right things.
To stop confusing terms, it’s just a matter of defining the boundaries of who does what. Here’s a short guide to reframe this topic.
Virtual reality (VR)
Virtual reality consists in bringing the user into a virtual universe. This universe can be a virtual office, a snowy forest, a climbing wall or a roller coaster.
Virtual reality is everything that consists in immersing the user in a virtual universe in which he is more or less isolated from reality.
In VR the universe is what you want it to be and you interact with the scenery as if you were there. In the case of work, the office created can have the shape and colors that we want and we can have as many screens as we want to work.
Many applications have been found to this technology:
- Immersive video games.
The player is in the first person and lives the action with his body.
- 360° videos
Available on YouTube and other platforms, they allow you to turn on yourself to observe the details of a scene as if you were there.
- Office automation
As mentioned before, it is possible to create an enhanced and functional office with decorations and giant floating screens. It is even possible to digitize certain objects such as a keyboard to see what one does with a physical object.
By recreating specific environments it is possible to treat depression and post-traumatic stress.
In the form of a serious game, the user can be guided to learn how to use a virtually reproduced machine. By accessing the real machine, the trainees are immediately operational.
Regarding the state of the market, Facebook’s Oculus headsets seem to dominate the market but HTC and Valve are serious competitors that focus more on video games.
Open VR devices also exist, they are rooms covered with screens in which users will be able to move on a floor in a conveyor belt.
Among these projects, we can quote :
- Panowork, a giant screen in the form of a half-sphere
- Sfirolo, a room with curved oled screens
- Hyve 3D, a room covered with canvases on which environments are projected.
Augmented reality (AR)
Augmented reality consists in adding virtual elements to what we see, most often through the camera of a phone. In theory, anything can be displayed, but the lack of interaction with the added element limits the concrete applications of this technology.
Augmented reality is all about adding virtual elements to what we see and the absence of physical interaction with these elements.
Concrete applications of AR are :
- AR is used daily through instragram and snapchat filters
- Digital clothing is a new type of business linked to AR. Consumers buy clothes or shoes that they can project on themselves for the time of a photo or a video. Gucci, for example, has sold a pair of virtual sneakers
- Video games, such as the famous Pokémon Go, often use AR but struggle to make it the main mechanics of their game. As a result, AR is often an option that is not used by players.
- HUD guidance is used to guide the user by showing him the way. GPS applications for phones or cars exist, but one can also imagine an AR guide to assemble an IKEA cabinet.
The Google Glasses were supposed to open the way to a connected world where we would do without our phones. Although the Google Glasses were a failure, Apple and Facebook are planning to release their own glasses, which revives interest and hope for this type of interface.
In mixed reality, holograms are projected over what the user sees and he can touch them.
Mixed reality is all about adding virtual elements to what we see and the possibility to physically interact with these elements.
MR creates new objects, even a new dimension. MR is the culmination of new reality interfaces since it allows us to do without a computer or phone to access the internet and our office software at any time and with intuitive interactions.
Hololens 2 is the most successful headset on the market and allows, according to test videos, to project around you many elements that interact with the environment in a consistent way.
In summary :
Virtual reality immerses the user in another world and isolates them
Augmented reality adds digital visual elements to what we see
Mixed reality adds digital visual elements to what we see and allows the user to touch these elements
All these technologies evolve quickly and are intertwined.
- VR headsets are often equipped with cameras to see the direct environment; cameras also allow to keep an eye contact with a physical computer keyboard which is digitized. In this case VR intersects with MR.
- AR glasses allow navigation with voice interfaces, which again makes the technology close to MR.
All these new technologies will converge in a more or less distant future towards extended reality, a world where all the physical environment will allow interaction with digital elements. It is this kind of technology that is promoted in the “our visions of the future” advertisements of brands like Apple, LG or many connected cities.